Friday, November 30, 2012

Driving in Houston: Humans Are Hazardous

After being auto accident free for almost 3 years in the US, last week I broke the strike of luck. I was involved in a minor accident. It was minor because no one got hurt but my and that old annoying guy's front bumpers. Though dealing with the insurance was not pleasant, I'm thankful the damage was minimal.

I was on my way to teach a 6.15 PM yoga class and because of the daylight saving time it was already dark when I left home. It was the week of Thanksgiving and people were driving like mad because they either wanted to shop or go home to prepare for their trips. Anyways, the accident was rather stupid and could easily be avoided if I just took the time and looked around before making a U-turn. I must admit that I was in a rush, being already 5 minutes late. My light was finally green and the car in front of me was making a left. I then made (or rather attempted) a U-turn. Before I knew it there was a loud sound and my car was halted. Obviously, when I looked to the front there was this old guy in his Jeep Cherokee looking pissed at me. He was making a right turn.

Long story short, the guy tried to put the blame on me. When the police came he didn't find anyone to be at fault. It was legal to make a U-turn in Texas unless stated otherwise and it was legal to make a right turn on a red light as long as the person yield to uncoming traffic. We were both wrong for being careless.

That minor accident was enough to put my head in perspective. It was a great adaption effort from my part to drive in Houston. Although Jakarta had (still does!) chaotic traffic, but I felt like I knew how to read situations and road users. I knew what to expect from Jakarta (there are of course always surprises, but still). It took me a lot of courage to drive in Houston. Big cars, intimidating trucks, people speeding, and the concept of right-of-way intimidated me, but I managed to overcome my fear and started driving. I had been feeling so comfortable with the way I drove up until that accident. The absence of moth-like motorcycles and annoying public transportations drivers also made me believe that it was indeed safer to drive here. As a result, I failed to notice my surroundings, assuming that everyone will follow rules thus as long as you have the right-of-way you'd be OK.

Another thing happened last night. It freaked me out big time. Feet cold, hands shaking and everything. I was on my way back from teaching a yoga class for a friend. I was subbing for her. The road to and from her place has a part of a long stretch with curves and no traffic light. The road was over a reservoir area so there was no residential areas around for at least 2 miles. There are road barriers on the sides of this two-way road (each way has two lanes), but not a road separator. There is also no road lights.

It was 8.40 PM and I was on the right lane just driving 2 mph under the 50 mph speed limit going southbound. I'm sure because I kept checking my speedometer. I always avoid being on the left lane when it comes to two-way roads without a separator. On my left there was a car going around 50 mph. We were close to each other, but I made sure I was not in his blind spot. Because of my previous accident I was constantly noticing everything around me, checking the rear-view mirror over and over again. There was no car behind me. I could see headlights but they were far away. Suddenly there was a pair of headlights going super fast approaching the car next to me. That car was going really fast I automatically thought of slowing down a bit and hoping that the car next to me would step on its gas so at least there was an opening for that speeding car to pass him from the right. I think I should have slowed down more and immediately because what happened next was absolutely horrible.

That speeding car suddenly took the left lane of the car next to me which was one of the lanes going the opposite direction (northbound). Fortunately cars going northbound were still far away. I thought the crazy driver would pass the car next to me from the left. It was a crazy idea but had he stayed on his (over-the-top) speed he would have made it. What the driver did next was just insane. It looked like he suddenly realized that he was on the wrong lane so he suddenly made a sharp left. I really don't know what that guy was thinking, it looked like he was attempting a 180. He might be drunk. The passenger side of the car then hit the right side road barrier so hard that I saw sparks from the two colliding metals. I was so afraid that the crazy car would make a 360 after that and hit my car if I stopped or slowed down so I just drove away. Oh God, I feel nauseated every time I think of that episode.

Cars are dangerous but people are more hazardous. Crazy, unstable, intoxicated, basically selfish people behind wheels are accidents waiting to happen. I pledge to be even more careful when I'm on the road. From now on, I'll just back off and let people (crazy stupid people!) have their way. I'm going to follow speed limits, I'm going to keep my eyes moving for hazard potentials, I'm going to keep a safe distance with other cars. I will never drink and drive and I will never ever talk or text when I'm driving. I don't care if people think I drive like an old lady. I'm not going to jeopardize myself and other people. God help me. God help all of us.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

1174 Miles Road Trip to the West and Back

I've become such an outdoorsy person and I really don't know how it happened. Our trip to Big Bend National Park just became another proof that I am indeed in love with the outdoors. What have I been doing before? Wasting my time by being under the shades, I guess.

Aris and I decided to take a road trip to Big Bend National Park, 10 hours away from Houston. We had the whole week thanks to the Thanksgiving weekend so it was perfect timing. We actually almost cancelled the trip because on Monday I was involved in a minor accident and I had to deal with the insurance. I had been so overly excited over the trip and so bummed about the fact that the whole trip might be cancelled because of me. Alas the carelessness of yours truly!

Fortunately, it turned out that the insurance thing could wait until we got back. We were using another car anyway so the trip was on again! On Tuesday afternoon we embarked on our journey to the west! Our Jeep (we named her Zeppelin) was full of things. Later on I found out that some things were not even needed. Aris had a great time mocking me for being so overly prepared. I must admit that I was doing too many research. Hey, I'm a writer so that's normal!

We arrived in San Antonio when the sun was setting and we decided to camp for a night at Kerville-Schreiner Park in Kerrville, Texas. It was another hour of driving from San Antonio and when we arrived we immediately found ourselves a campsite. There was only one other family besides us in the whole tent-only campsite so it was nice and quiet. There was no electricity and running water in the campsite, but the restroom and shower were 100 feet away. Later that night we found out that our bedding situation was not sufficient for the temperature and we were not putting the tent correctly. Our asses were freezing that night! Live and learn, we didn't do the same mistake twice. No siree! In the morning we did some mountain biking in the park and I think I did good for my first attempt though I was cursing during most of the steep inclines. Kerville-Schreiner Park was wonderful!

We continued our journey to Big Bend National Park after the biking session. It was a nice driving day that Wednesday. The road was just about to get crowded, but still rather empty for the most part. We stopped at Caverns of Sonora for lunch. We borrowed their picnic table and cooked (well, heated) our lunch. From there it was straight to Big Bend with necessary stops to fill up the tank and some Walmart shopping. I was not going to freeze my ass again the second night so we bought blanket and pillows. Yes, I brought a shovel and a 5-gallon bucket, but not pillows.

We arrived at Big Bend National Park around 5 PM and it was magical. Big Bend country was absolutely stunning. The sun was mellowing and the sky was blushing. All around there were layers of mountains, just like something one find in a painting. The farther the mountain, the surreal it looked. Because we didn't have a reservation we had to race people to get a site. Thanksgiving weekend has always been one of the busiest! The whole park has 45 mph speed limit. This is more for the animals than the humans. Too many animals got killed because they didn't see the car coming. A number of jackrabbits and one coyote were saved because we followed the speed limit. 'Yayyy' to us!

We finally settled in the Rio Grande Village. The campsite was in proximity to the Mexico-US border. It was more a mental border rather than a physical one. Again, we set up our tent in total darkness. Using headlights we assembled the tent and set up our bed then made dinner and started to try to get a feel of everything. Our nextdoor neighbor in the campsite was a family in an RV. It looked like they had moved their whole entire home to their site. To make us even more jealous, they had steak for dinner. We were too tired so we made a bowl of Indonesian instant noodle. Hearty and absolutely not nutritious, but was enough to make us full. It rained that night and I had one of the nicest sleeps in a long time. I was content with everything. With the rain, with our tent, with the absence of phone reception and the internet, with the man sleeping next to me. Everything was perfect.

We woke up in the crack of dawn the next day. Our Walmart shopping paid off. It was a comfortable sleep and I was ready for the day. Aris made breakfast (apparently the only time he cooks for me is when we're in the middle of nowhere) and we set out to Boquillas Canyon. Our plan for the day was exploring the southwest side of the 3,242 km2 national park. So we started at Boquillas Canyon and absorbed the beautiful view and the fact that Mexico was literally a few steps away. Then we drove to the Old Ore Road where it was full on unpaved and primitive road. The 4WD was a success. That was the first time we tried the feature. Aris wanted to bike in the desert so we parked and prepared the bikes. I was not excited. Though the temperature was nice, the desert sun was still unforgiving. He did good and kept biking, while I just gave up and found me a shade. After that we drove to Ernst Basin and hiked. The gigantic rock formations were astonishing. Aris had a blast explaining everything to me. The canyons were intimidating but it was absolutely serene there.

Finally back to the paved road, we went back to our camp and cooked lunch. After that we headed to Hot Spring and hiked some more. The area is called Hot Spring because there is a hot spring there (duh!) and people were hanging out there to cool off (or warm up?). Next to the hot spring is the Rio Grande river, bordering the US with Mexico. It was around 3 PM when we covered the Hot Spring area and then we decided to do some more off road driving. This time we covered 39.7 km of primitive road. It was just quiet and scenic and fun! The sun was already gone when we arrived back to the paved road so we headed back to camp and made (Thanksgiving) dinner. This time it was Chicken Teriyaki with rice. We just added hot water and stirred. Yep, that kind of Chicken Teriyaki with rice. We had tea afterwards and stargazed. The pitch black sky was the perfect contrast to the hundreds and hundreds of twinkling stars!

Friday was another early day. We decided to take off from Big Bend that very afternoon so we collapsed the tent and put everything back in the car, again in total darkness. We raced the morning sun to the Old Maverick Road, an hour away from Rio Grande Village. It was another unpaved road. Aris wanted to bike the whole 21 km from the starting point of the road to Santa Elena Canyon. I followed behind with Zeppelin. I can't even start to describe the beauty of that very morning as the sun slowly crawled out behind the majestic mountains and the desert plants were acting as foreground to the breathtaking sight. That morning is one of those mornings that I will forever keep in my memory locker and take out when I need a pick-me-up!

The mesmerizing view brought us to Santa Elena Canyon. Ah, the spectacular Santa Elena Canyon! It is considered as the most dramatically beautiful in the whole Big Bend area. The 450 meter high cliffs protect the Rio Grande river. We hiked uphill then downhill to meet the river and be among the gigantic cliffs. I felt small, but funnily enough, also significant. We then took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Chisos Mountain Basin. It was indeed a scenic drive and the Chisos Mountains were beautiful also! Chisos is the most crowded area of the whole park. The elevation gives a constant cool breeze and a  'you're-not-actually-in-Texas' kind of feeling. I initially wanted to camp here. Thank God the campsite at Chisos was full when we first arrived, because there was no way I could survive the cold nights. We had lunch at the Chisos Restaurant, took some pictures and headed back to Houston.

After driving for 3 hours we decided to set up camp at the Caverns of Sonora. We had learned that the campsite there had electricity and a clean restroom plus hot shower. The night was cold, but we managed. In the morning a not-so familiar sound woke us up. It came from peacocks! How wonderful! At 9.45 AM we took a tour inside the caverns. Caverns of Sonora is acknowledged as the most beautiful cave in Texas and the most beautiful show caves in the world. It was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the US government in 1966 and the caves are still active. Ninety-five percent of its formations are still "growing". Unbelievable!

The tour took a little more than an hour then we continued our journey back home with one more essential stop: the Hill Country State Natural Area in Bandera. The place had a lot of mountain biking trails in the forms of loops, so every trail is connected in some way. We just had to try some of it. The first trail was gruesome! I mostly just pushed my bike up the hills and over the rocks, but I did collect enough courage to bike through some downhill parts and it was exhilarating! The second trail that we chose was relatively easy. Mostly country roads and flat areas. We ended our trip there. It was the perfect ending.

This year, I'm thankful for my adventures and Aris, my partner in doing those adventures. We may fight, bicker, annoy each other (a lot!), but in the end he's my home. Wherever we are, whatever we do, however we do it, as long as he is there, I'm good.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Few Laugh Lines Later...

I had lunch today with three wonderful ladies. All married, two are pregnant. One has been living in Houston for 6 years, one for almost a year, the other barely surviving 4 months, and I am going into my 3rd year. Together we were four married ladies, trying to adapt with the life of a wife in a foreign country. 

To me, the past three years have been quite a journey. It's been about homesickness, learning to run a household, taking care of 3 dogs, compromising (again and again) with the husband, and trying to keep myself intact as a significant human being. It's been about learning and doing and taking chances. It's been about re-inventing myself.

Over plates of sandwiches the ladies and I talked about basic stuff. Questions are always the same: "How long have you been here?", "Do you like it here?", "What do you do all day?". Things haven't been good for the friend who just arrived here 4 months ago. She's homesick and bored. I know exactly how that feels. I know exactly how the 1st year feels. It sucks. Big time.

Another friend asked when I started doing yoga. "Two and a half years ago," I said. "What did you do during the first 6 months?" she asked again. I mentally took a look back at those months and answered, "Being depressed." It is true. It was depressing and I was depressed. Marriage alone was confusing at first. Living with a boy, trying to figure out our roles and how not to kill each other. I kind of had the impression that I had to perform as a "good wife". Cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry were my job. I lost myself between peeling a garlic for a stir fry and folding my husband's underwear. I was lost and sad. I was not a "good wife" and I may never be one.

But it was not about the cooking, cleaning, folding underwear or being acknowledged as a "good wife" or a good anything. It was about me doing those things without putting myself first. Without knowing why I was here in Houston, married to my husband and away from my support system. I love my husband, I really do. But at one point I realized that if I wasn't happy then I'd make his life a living hell. And I didn't want to do that to him. He was and is -however- my bestfriend. He is my support system.

What was hard was feeling comfortable and safe in the new environment. And it was hard to take the mind off the past, the home, the comfort zone that was no longer there and create a present, a new home, and a fresh comfort zone. I'm glad I took risks and put myself out there. I'm doing a lot of stuff for myself and I've made new wonderful friends aside from my Indonesian friends.

I used to say to people that all I did all day was taking care of the house, my husband and my dogs. Well that's not true anymore. I still take care of the house and the husband and the dogs. But now I'm doing them with joy and willingness, because God knows I'm doing other things that makes me feel worthy and significant. And after three years and a few laugh lines on the corners of my eyes later, this place called Texas, is really not bad at all.